By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — There might be no higher compliment for an NFL offensive coordinator than an admission from Bill Belichick that his scheme is difficult to prepare for.
Welcome to an elite club, Pep Hamilton.
The New England Patriots head coach and defensive mastermind told media following the team earlier this week that he's intrigued by the Indianapolis Colts' versatility. A team that preaches power running and the value of "body blows" spread the Kansas City Chiefs out for much of last week's AFC wild card playoff game and relied on speed and precision.
As Saturday's divisional playoff contest nears in Foxborough, Mass., Belichick isn't certain what to expect from Hamilton and his personnel.
"We know that they had a lot of success last week against Kansas City, and we certainly have to be ready for that," Belichick said. "Maybe that will be what we get, but maybe that will be more of a game plan for Kansas City. Maybe they'll look at us differently, maybe they won't. We'll just have to wait until Saturday to see on that. But Pep looks like a very game-plan oriented coach, and it's hard to predict exactly what they're going to do from game to game."
Some of this certainly is gamesmanship.
Belichick is a master of mental warfare, and he'll seek any advantage he can get. But the battle of wits between the league's foremost defensive-minded head coach and the Colts' rising young offensive coordinator will be one of the game's most important matchups.
Hamilton has been down this road before, helping to devise game plans to attack some of Belichick's best New England defenses from 2003-05 as an offensive assistant for the rival New York Jets.
That experience showed Hamilton just how difficult the challenge can be. The Jets went 0-6 against the Patriots in those three seasons, averaging 11.7 points per game.
"I think you know they're going to be well-prepared and well-versed in all the different disguises and the different things that they feel like they can do to try and create uncertainty for our offense presnap," Hamilton said. "It'll be a tremendous challenge. I coached in the same division for three years with Coach Belichick, and it was always truly a chess match."
The difference this time around is that Hamilton will be the man responsible for moving the pieces around the board — the most interesting of which could be wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.
The second-year star has lined up at all four receiver positions for the Colts — moving from the outside to the slot and back again — and Hamilton is certain to keep him in motion against the Patriots. Coming off a franchise playoff-record performance that included 13 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns, he'll certainly be a focus of New England's defensive game plan.
But Belichick said there's danger in allowing Hilton to dominate too much of your thoughts.
"(Quarterback Andrew) Luck has done a good job of using all his receivers, using his backs and obviously tight end in the passing game," Belichick said. "He's done a good job of going to where the open guy is. I'm sure if he had his druthers, he'd get it to Hilton. But it's not always Hilton. Sometimes he's covered or they use him to attract, draw coverage somewhere else, and that opens up opportunities for others guys in the passing game and running game."
And so the chess match begins.
Does Belichick double Hilton or assign top-coverage cornerback Aqib Talib to shadow the speedster? How will Hamilton react and adjust to maximize the receiver's impact?
And that's just one matchup among the 11 when Indianapolis has the football that will help determine the game.
The Colts have done well with a hurry-up offense early in recent weeks, but Hamilton expects the New England crowd to be a factor and make things difficult Saturday. That doesn't mean Indianapolis will go away from the no-huddle approach.
It's just another example of the many and varied ways in which the offensive coordinator's decisions will impact the contest. One thing is certain, Hamilton will not limit the options at Luck's disposal.
"We've said since Day 1, there's no can't-dos," he said. "Now is the time for us to let our hair down and let it all hang out. We're not saving plays. We're not saving any of our bullets, should I say. We got to be ready to do whatever we need to to score touchdowns."